Assault on the Common Law of Premises Liability: What Duty of Care Does an Owner or Occupier of Land Owe to a Police Officer Who Enters the Premises of Another by Authority of Law? Newton v. New Hanover County Board of Education
This Note examines the liability of landowners to police officers who enter upon the land in the execution of their public duties and are injured as a consequence of a coincident hazardous condition on the land. Section II presents the relevant facts of Newton v. New Hanover County Board of Education and the conclusions of the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. Section III reviews the traditional common law in the United States related to the duty of care owed by landowners to invitees, licensees, and to a limited extent, trespassers. It also examines the modern trend that eliminates or modifies the common law rules related to premises liability and bases liability on a standard of reasonable care. Included among the modern treatments are "entrants upon the land by right," a class sui generis, the "firefighter's rule" and its application to police officers injured, and the unique duty of care owed to police officers who enter the land of another under authority of law. Section III concludes with a discussion of the reasons for retaining the common law classification system and reasons to abandon or modify it. Section IV discusses the possible ramifications of this decision on premises liability for North Carolina landowners when police officers are injured while acting under authority of law. A concern is raised about a landowner's duty to warn a police officer of hidden perils and unsafe conditions when the officer enters when the landowner is unaware of the officer's presence. Section V concludes with a suggestion that the duty to warn should exist only when the landowner has had a reasonable opportunity to warn the officer of hidden perils and unsafe conditions. It also suggests the possibility that North Carolina may have taken a first step in joining the trend away from the traditional system of "invitee, licensee, and trespasser" classifications and toward landowner premises liability based on the standard of reasonable care and foreseeability.
Linda Sayed, Assault on the Common Law of Premises Liability: What Duty of Care Does an Owner or Occupier of Land Owe to a Police Officer Who Enters the Premises of Another by Authority of Law? Newton v. New Hanover County Board of Education, 19 Campbell L. Rev. 579 (1997).